A boy tags along with his stepbrother to a casting session.
To his surprise, he is selected to do background work as an extra on a children’s show.
An assistant director sees something in the boy and begins giving him acting books as he’s never acted before. Later he offers tips on how to stand out from the crowd.
Eventually the boy becomes a regular on other children’s shows, gets a few small movies, is cast in a small but memorable part of a Quentin Tarantino movie, does some theater in Los Angeles before begin chosen to act opposite Denzel Washington in a Broadway production of The Iceman Cometh.
He hears of a role that sounds perfect to him, prepares relentlessly for his audition tape, goes through a six month audition process where he is meeting weekly with the director.
He finally lands the role of a lifetime… only to have production shut down two days before the filming is scheduled to begin due to COVID..
The movie shuts down for six months, claiming “force majeure” – which means no one gets paid during this time. Rather than returning home during this time, the boy – now a young man – stays on location at his own expense and continues to work on his role with the director.
The movie finally gets made. It’s a smash hit. The movie and the young actor are both nominated for an Academy Award.
The move is Elvis and the actor is Austin Butler.
I heard this story during his interview with Marc Maron. It is remarkable on many levels and Butler’s hard work, humility and commitment are both undeniable and impressive.
At the same time, the whole story begins with a chance encounter at a casting call. Someone later seeing something in this boy standing in the background and offering unsolicited help and mentorship.
Years ago when filming a documentary, I interviewed a guidance counselor at a small school in Pennsylvania where a school shooting had recently occurred. He noted that, right or wrong, stretched teachers and guidance counselors focus most of their attention either on the obvious troublemakers (because they need to maintain order) or star students (because it offers affirmation for why they teach.)
What happens in that school mirrors what we often do throughout society – in other classrooms, fields of play, workplaces, and neighborhoods. Focusing our gaze on the shiny or loud few in the foreground while never seeing the promise or peril of the impressionable many that sit quietly in the background.
May each of us find someone in the background this week, perhaps offer them a word of encouragement or at the very least let them know they are seen.